April 16, 2013

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/17/national/film-sheds-light-on-plight-of-left-behind-parents/#.UW3xorWUSeR

NATIONAL
Film sheds light on plight of left-behind parents
BY MASAMI ITO
STAFF WRITER
APR 17, 2013
ARTICLE HISTORY
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Images of left-behind parents, holding up photos of their children, flash across the screen. In the United States, Canada, Europe and even Japan, these parents are waiting to reunite with offspring taken away by their estranged Japanese spouses.

The documentary film “From The Shadows,” completed last December, features five left-behind parents and their struggles to reconnect with their children.

During a recent interview with The Japan Times, producer and director David Hearn stressed that he was motivated to make the film to raise awareness and understanding.

In the 6½ years it took to make the film, Hearn and his coproducer and codirector, Matthew Antell, traveled to five countries, including Japan, to chronicle the parents’ torments.

“When you get to meet left-behind parents and know more about them, you can feel the kind of pain and heartache they experience. These parents are not different from you or me, they are real, imperfect, but always loving and desperate to reconnect with their own children,” Hearn said.

“Their relationship with their children fulfills their identity, who they are and without it they are often shattered.”

Regan Suzuki, Paul Toland and Paul Wong from the U.S., Murray Wood from Canada and Rina Furuichi from Japan, the parents in the film, all have had their children taken away by a Japanese spouse or relatives of the estranged spouse, and all have effectively had no contact with their sons and daughters.

These cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Many left-behind parents have spent years trying to reconnect with children who have been taken to Japan from abroad. Toland, for example, has been forced to live apart from his daughter, who was only 9 months old at the time his then-wife took her in 2003. Wood has been separated from his two children since November 2004, when they were just elementary school students.

“When kids need parents is when they’re growing up. They need me now,” Wood says in the film. “They need their dad to help them go from where they are now to solid, confident adults who have the best chance that they possibly can to be successful in life. That’s what they need, that’s what my job is.”

Some of the fathers, including Wood, take the desperate step of approaching their children as they walk to school. Although Wood succeeds, the lack of contact over the years makes their reunion heartbreakingly awkward as Wood struggles to interact with his son and daughter.

Hearn, who as a child was himself caught in the middle of a bruising custody battle between his parents, encourages left-behind parents to reach out to their children, to let them know that they haven’t been forgotten. The director recalled the awkward interactions when his father started showing up at his sporting events, but he was grateful for the man’s efforts, even though they didn’t have much to say to each other.

“For children who are growing up, learning and developing, the sudden loss of one parent can be devastating. I was lucky because losing one of my parents was never a consideration when my parents had their custody battle, but for children in Japan, if a custody battle occurs, it often means that they will lose contact with one parent,” Hearn said. “We find it unacceptable that this result is the best we can do for our kids.”

The underlying problem for many cases is Japan’s refusal to join The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The treaty aims to prevent cross-border kidnappings by parents and to secure the swift return of children wrongfully taken or who are being held in any member state.

After years of international criticism, the government is finally poised to join the 89 other member states, if the Diet approves related bills as early as next month.

Japan is also the only Group of Eight nation that has yet to sign on to the treaty.

Many such abductions are in defiance of court rulings on child custody and visitation rights handed down in other countries that had been the offsprings’ nation of domicile, as well as the nation where they were born. Thus when a ruling is violated by an apparent flight to another country, the spouse could be subject to a fugitive arrest warrant.

Strong domestic opposition, however, remains.

Many Japanese mothers, for example, claim domestic violence prompted them to take the children to Japan in the first place. And Japanese authorities have repeatedly stressed that in such cases, children will not be sent back regardless of the convention.

Left-behind parents, however, feel this argument could be an easy justification for courts in Japan to side with the alleged abused party and not return their children.

“I’m worried because there are plenty of signatory countries all over the world (whose) compliance record can be very up or down,” Hearn said. “My worry is that Japan signs but nothing really changes. But I hope I’m wrong.”

Some experts and foreign officials have also questioned the effectiveness of Japan’s participation, citing not only the sole-custody law but also the custom of not proactively supporting visitation rights for noncustodial parents.

According to Japanese family courts, there were 409 cases of parents seeking the return of their abducted children in 2001 — a number that jumped to 1,985 by 2011. Experts point out that undoubtedly many more cases exist because these numbers reflect only those cases that have been acknowledged by the courts.

Hearn, along with many left-behind parents, expressed guarded optimism about Japan’s readiness to comply with the treaty.

“We are aware that signing The Hague Convention will not cure everything because there will continue to be situations that are difficult to handle,” Hearn said. “But if signing the treaty accomplishes one thing, we hope that it will create a situation where more relationships between children and their parents are kept intact.”

For more information, visit fromtheshadowsmovie.com.

http://www.policymic.com/articles/15499/from-the-shadows-documentary-reflects-sad-reality-of-government-sponsored-child-abduction-in-japan

This incredible documentary has been/is being internationally censured but seems to be available through these links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3g3g_0r01c

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNDA2MzE2Nzcy.html

 

For those who are unable to view the documentary online, here is the transcript:

Transcript

WILLACY: The cherry blossoms are out for all to see. It’s a spectacular sight that lifts the spirits of Japanese and travellers lucky enough to be here. It’s difficult to imagine a time when Japan was completely isolated from the outside world, but under Sakoku from the 17th to the 19th centuries, no foreigner could enter nor any Japanese leave the locked country on the penalty of death. Eventually Japan opened up and foreigners returned but many of the old insular ways continue to this day.

Just ask parents trapped in the anguish of failed marriage, locked out from the lives of their children and with nowhere to turn.

ALEX KAHNEY: “So I thought my wife can’t kidnap my kids. I’ll just go to the police. The first two or three months I was shattered. The first six months I was numb”.

REGAN: “And when I got home I kind of just fell apart and my true feelings of you know not being able to trust him or being really angry with him came out”.

CRAIG MORREY: “Basically it all came down to I don’t want to be with you, I don’t want to be with you, I’m leaving. I didn’t even know my daughter was born”.

WILLACY: Tonight we reveal how Japan has long condoned one parent snatching children away from the other, not just from within its own jurisdiction but from around the world. This is the story of how Japan became a haven for parents abducting their own children and of the paralysing heartbreak and helplessness of those parents left behind.

Under Japanese law there’s no such thing as dual custody. The courts here almost universally award all legal rights over a child to the one parent – meaning the other parent is frozen out of their child’s life. Often the only contact the forgotten parent is allowed is a few photographs of their child every year.

Craig Morrey isn’t just a father. He’s a 24 hour a day carer for his profoundly disabled son Spencer. After terrible complications during birth, Spencer was left with catastrophic brain damage and severe cerebral palsy.

CRAIG MORREY: “He can’t swallow, he can’t move on his own. He obviously can’t sit up. He can’t close his eyes and obviously kids can be very, very resilient but in Spencer’s case he was essentially born dead”.

WILLACY: The Chicago native and reproductive biologist came to Japan 15 years ago to further his research, but he quickly fell for and married a Brazilian-born Japanese woman. While they were both struggling to care for their first born son, Craig Morrey’s wife discovered she was pregnant with their second child and it proved too much for her.

CRAIG MORREY: “So she started to say she wanted a divorce, she wanted to leave. She talked about wanting to you know not necessarily commit suicide but to die”.

WILLACY: Five months into her pregnancy, his wife disappeared leaving Craig Morrey to care for Spencer on his own and shut out of the birth of his second child.

CRAIG MORREY: “I didn’t even know my daughter was born. I found out that she was in the hospital and I went to try to see her with Spencer and she had called security and I was denied to see my daughter”.

WILLACY: “How old was she when you finally got to see her?”

CRAIG MORREY: “Six and a half months in a courtroom for 15 minutes with her mother wailing in the background. Not the ideal circumstances to meet your daughter”.

WILLACY: Craig Morrey has a night job. He’s unable to afford specialist care so he takes his son along to the bar he runs in the town of Okazaki. In between pulling beers, he has to clear Spencer’s airways to ensure he doesn’t suffocate. Despite his wife abandoning their son, the court awarded her guardianship of their baby daughter Amelia and now, still fighting that ruling, Craig Morrey has been placed in an extraordinary dilemma by the court – if he takes his son to the United States where he can get better care for him, he’s been told he’ll lose the right to see his daughter.

CRAIG MORREY: “I’m sort of put in the situation where I either have to abandon my daughter and leave her with someone who I don’t think is a particularly good role model at the moment or go back and get better care for Spencer which is just, for a lack of a better word idiotic”.

WILLACY: But this isn’t just a system layered with rulings many parents regard as idiotic – it’s a system in which court rulings are often flouted or ignored by parents who abduct their children. Englishman Alex Kahney is leaving Japan after 19 years. He’s lost his job, he’s broke and so he can’t afford to stay and that means he’s leaving behind everything he cares about – his two daughters.

ALEX KAHNEY: “They just love their daddy. They were real daddy’s girls. Every time we got in the car there’d be a fight who could sit next to daddy in the front”.

WILLACY: Two years ago with his marriage to his Japanese wife falling apart, Alex Kahney returned home from work one day to an empty house and an empty bank account.

ALEX KAHNEY: “I thought uh oh, something’s wrong here. I went to the police. I said to the police, ‘my wife’s taken my kids out of the house without my permission and we’re not divorced. There’s no agreement in place, there’s no court order and she’s refusing to let me speak to the children’. The policemen laughed. They both had a good chuckle about it”.

WILLACY: Alex Kahney says his marriage broke down after his wife reneged on an agreement to raise their children in England for a while. We tried to get his estranged wife’s side of the story.

YUMI: “We’ve heard your husband’s side of the story. Now we’d like to hear both sides of the story”.

WILLACY: But like other Japanese spouses we contacted, she refused to be part of this programme. Despite a court order giving Alex Kahney monthly access, his wife hasn’t allowed him to see his children since she snatched them two years ago. So his frustration has turned to desperation. It’s a harrowing scene as the father tries every now and then to connect with his daughters as they leave school. [Alex walking alongside them outside school trying to talk to his daughters] His daughters don’t want to listen. They run from their father without saying a word.

ALEX KAHNEY: “They just ignore me. They just ignore me. A child ignoring her own father, you know I’ve been disowned. I’m nothing. I might as well be a ghost”.

COLIN JONES: “When we talk about family law in Japan today, it’s a slight exaggeration but there really isn’t any. There is no body of law called family law”.

WILLACY: At this protest in one of Tokyo’s busiest districts, so-called left behind parents – both Japanese and foreign – have joined forces. They’re a very vocal part of an effort to stop Japan remaining a black hole for international and domestic child abduction. The country’s been under pressure from foreign governments and parents to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Convention sets out the rules for the prompt return of kids abducted across international borders by one of their parents. Every top industrialised country in the world – except Japan – has signed it. Japan says it plans to but nobody here is holding their breath and the courts have been very reluctant to break the mould. According to local media reports, there’s not been one recorded case of a Japanese judge ordering the repatriation of an abducted child.

COLIN JONES: “Who wants to be the first judge to order a crying child to be taken away from a crying Japanese mother and given back and sent overseas? Nobody, there’s nobody in the system I think who benefits from being the guy who ordered the crying child to be taken away”.

(DISTRESSED WOMAN AT MICROPHONE BREAKS DOWN)

WILLACY: It’s not the sort of meeting they’re used to inside Japan’s parliament complex.

WOMAN: “I just want to spend a normal time with my children every day. And I don’t understand why this has happened”.

WILLACY: These parents of abducted children and a handful of Japanese MPs have come today to learn more about the Hague Convention. The man they’ve come to listen to is Colin Jones, a professor of law and Hague specialist from Kyoto’s Doshisha University – but his message isn’t encouraging.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “Alienations will not end just with this. I don’t think there will be much improvement in international abductions”.

WILLACY: Professor Jones believes Japan could treat the Hague Convention very much like it does the international treaty on whaling – in other words, by using loopholes to largely ignore it and by putting national interest ahead of global cooperation.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “You see this attitude up through the leadership levels in some situations, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the same thing happened with the Hague Convention”.

WILLACY: American mum, Regan Haight, didn’t take long to realise she could never rely on the Japanese legal system to get her children back. Her Japanese husband abducted their son and daughter from their home in Utah and took them to Japan where the police made it very clear to Regan Haight that they regarded this as a family matter.

POLICE: “I’m sorry, we don’t consider your case an abduction or even a crime”.

WILLACY: With no help from the US Government or Japanese authorities, Regan Haight decided to take matters into her own hands. It was a radical and very risky course of action.

REGAN HAIGHT: “I was told that I could do a snatch and grab kind of thing that was ….could be traumatic and most likely unsuccessful …and get myself into trouble”.

WILLACY: Regan Haight turned to this man, former British military special forces operative Steve Johnson is known in the business as a child recovery specialist.

STEVE JOHNSON: “Japan has a reputation around the world as being difficult, some say impossible to recover children from. I am robust, I’m head on, I’m in the face of anyone I’m going up against and I don’t leave until I get the job done”.

REGAN HAIGHT: “It gave me confidence and you know what I needed was support from somebody whose main goal was to help me”.

WILLACY: Steve Johnson soon joined Regan Haight in Japan where the case took another dramatic twist. Regan Haight’s husband Shuta revealed the children had been abducted a second time – this time by their Japanese grandmother who was effectively holding them for ransom.

REGAN HAIGHT: “At one point she told me that I had to sign over, sign my name off the house and that I could see the kids. You know so we did that. Then she wouldn’t let me see the kids after that. You know we had to pay her fifty thousand dollars, then we could see the kids and you know I didn’t…. I didn’t have that money”.

WILLACY: After a period of subtle negotiation, Steve Johnson decided to apply the blow torch at a street side rendezvous filmed by other abandoned parents documenting the traumatic consequences of child abduction.

STEVE JOHNSON: [to Shuta at a road side meeting] “Your mother must understand that things are about to get bad. TV cameras are going to be here, the police are going to be called. Then Interpol will take over. The easiest thing for her to do Shuta is to hand over the children this afternoon, and it all goes away. Everything disappears. If your mum wants to swipe the kids up and run away – then good luck to her”.

WILLACY: With that the ultimatum was delivered and the deadline set. But the odds were well and truly stacked against Regan Haight. How would her ordeal end?

Australian Chayne Inaba believes he knows the perils of pushing too hard to right the wrong of child abduction.

As this video indicates family life seemed pretty happy and contented for the medical trauma specialist. Four days later his wife abducted their daughter Ai and brought her here [family home].

“This is your family home over there?”

CHAYNE INABA: “Yep that’s the family home, the home of the Inova family”.

WILLACY: “And if you went to the house there’d be big problems?”

CHAYNE INABA: “There’d be major problems which I would say the police would be involved and a lot of nasty things would happen yeah”.

WILLACY: Chayne Inaba has already had a run in he thinks was all about scaring him off. Not long after being warned by his wife’s family to stay away from his daughter, he was attacked inside his own home.

CHAYNE INABA: “I walked inside, closed the door, walking down towards the living room and I was attacked by a brick from the bathroom. I had two black eyes, fractures – I had a lot”.

WILLACY: He has his suspicions about who was responsible but the police weren’t interested.

CHAYNE INABA: “The brick had skin and hair and blood on it and they said, to my knowledge, that they told the Australian Consulate that the brick wasn’t the weapon”.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “Parental abduction is an effort to eliminate the other parent from the child’s life and the sad cases we see here repeatedly are the child can’t talk to their father or sometimes their mother anymore. They’re taken away at a young age, they don’t get exposed to their foreign parent’s native language, they only speak Japanese. The foreign parent doesn’t speak Japanese. It’s a destruction of one half of the child’s identity to do that”.

WILLACY: Government MP Masae Ido is a leading sceptic of the Hague Convention and a chief defender of Japan’s approach to family law.

MASAE IDO: “While Westerners call it abduction it’s common among the Japanese that a mother and child return to the mother’s parents’ home after a divorce”.

WILLACY: She has a better understanding of this issue than most because as her political opponents gleefully advertise on the internet, she snatched her three children away from her first husband.

MASAE IDO: “Like other parents, I left a note so the other parent knew where the children were and understood that they were at a safe place. Not many people think of this as kidnapping or a crime. If anything, they think it’s not a bad thing. It’s really a custom”.

WILLACY: It’s a day out for happy families at the Osaka aquarium, but the group handing out these balloons is also dishing out a blunt message. Craig Morrey and other left behind parents have launched a public education campaign about an issue few Japanese are even aware of.

CRAIG MORREY: “Do you know that they only have a sole custody system in Japan”.

FATHER: “I’m sorry, I don’t really know”.

WILLACY: This custom of sole custody has torn apart parents and children from all corners of the world. But while local awareness of the issue is limited, Japanese do figure prominently among the victims. Every year 150,000 divorced Japanese parents join the ranks of the dispossessed.

RYOMA TAKAHASHI NEW: “My love for my children and my desire to see them has not changed”.

WILLACY: Ryoma Takahashi is one such parent and because of his profile, the recent abduction of his children has sparked media interest. His wife took their sons for a short break but never returned and the renowned local artist has now been frozen out of their lives.

RYMOA TAKAHASHI: “My mind went blank – what I thought and what to do – it was really blank. It was as if I lost sight of tomorrow… I lost sight of the future. I didn’t know what to do. The point is that my children were abducted by her and they were stolen from me. It’s become a country where whoever abducts children wins. In my case the judge told me on the first day, ‘You haven’t seen your children for seven months now. Did your children contact you? No, right? Your sons don’t want to see you anymore’.”

WILLACY: He’s trying desperately to win back his children but his wife has countered with a claim of domestic violence. The abuse? That Takahashi suggested his wife should give up work because of the stress it was causing her.

RYMOA TAKAHASHI: “She’s accusing me of verbal violence – but just what is verbal violence? It seems like my suggestion that she quit her job was verbal violence. I think it’s a major problem that the police accept that as domestic violence”.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “Basically anything can be abuse. Verbal abuse is covered…. financial abuse. I’ve seen literature which includes ignoring someone as a form of abuse”.

WILLACY: For Regan Haight there was a happy ending. After months of trying to get her son and daughter back from the clutches of her Japanese husband’s family, the efforts of her private child recovery specialist paid off. The children were surrendered.

REGAN HAIGHT: “It was, it was amazing. It was a surprise. I didn’t expect them to walk through this door. I was expecting that you know that this was going to go on for a long period of time and then the sliding glass door opened and they came through and it was just, it was a relief. It was just, it was amazing”.

WILLACY: For the man who helped get her children back, it’s proof that kids can be saved from Japan’s black hole of abduction.

STEVE JOHNSON: “There is only one way to recover children that have been abducted and that’s to get on a plane, to land in country and get on with it, and confront people and upset people, ruffle feathers”.

WILLACY: But the happy endings are rare indeed, overwhelmed by the thousands of stories of heartbreak, American Craig Morrey will continue to care for his son Spencer and continue to fight to be with his daughter Amelia and he’ll continue in his struggle to change the system in Japan.

CRAIG MORREY: “Every three minutes a child loses contact with a parent in Japan through divorce. Every three minutes. And you know the government doesn’t want to acknowledge that because they don’t know how to deal with it and they’re not willing to deal with it”.

CHAYNE INABA: [footage of his children] “Sometimes it’s hard to watch”.

WILLACY: Chayne Inaba continues to fight for his daughter in the courts but he knows he may not get to see her for many years.

CHAYNE INABA: “And she’ll know that her father [upset]…… her father did everything humanly possible to keep the family together and protect her. She’ll know that”.

WILLACY: They once loved to play music together but for Englishman Alex Kahney, it’s sayonara to Japan and the daughters he can’t see and who will no longer speak to him. While recently packing up his Tokyo home he discovered a note left for him by one of his daughters before she was snatched away. He turned it into a song for them called “Someday We Can Meet”.

ALEX KAHNEY: “I didn’t want you to be out of my life, or for me to be out of yours. It wasn’t me that did this to you. I’ve done my best to get you back. I think about you all the time. If you want anything I’m here and I’m looking forward to that day”.

A screening of the practically finished version of the “From the Shadows” documentary film about child abduction in Japan took place on November 7 at the Capitol Visitor Center Theater in Washington, D.C.  The screening was sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith’s office and invitees consisted largely of left-behind parents and their family members

“From the Shadows” is a hard hitting, superbly made documentary film that has been years in the making.  It documents the heartbreaking attempts of left-behind parents to see their children in Japan and accurately exposes how the system facilitates child abductions in Japan.  In addition to featuring a Japanese mother whose child was taken by her Japanese husband, the film also focuses in depth on four international cases:  Canadian father Murray Wood, U.S. fathers Paul Toland and Paul Wong, and U.S. mother Regan Haight.

The film is directed and produced by Matt Antell and David Hearn.  Although David Hearn was unable to attend the screening, Matt Antell was present and also participated in a panel afterwards with Paul Toland and Murray Wood, which can be viewed at the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3bNNyVkH60

In his remarks, Matt Antell noted that the producers are hoping that the film will be shown at the Berlin International Film Festival and also possibly the Sundance film festival in 2012.

To learn more about the film and how you can help, please visit the following link:

http://www.fromtheshadowsmovie.com/